My Idea, how i Developed it & my Final Result
I am passionate about Artificial Intelligence, as such after my gap year I wish to study it at University. For this reason I would like my last project to incompass and reflect this intrest. Thus I decided to make a Robotics oriented project.
Programmable matter seems to hold a vast amount of potential for the future, from MIT to Intel, big corporations and researchers are striving to improve and implement this technology. Distiniquished between Claytronics & Modular Robots; my final project will concentrate on the latter.
So far I have not been able to find an open source, simple and cheap way to produce modular robots for private researchers (that fits my image of modular robots). Thus I aim to make just that.
I. Plan and sketch a potential final project
Modular robots come in many different shapes, sizes, functionalities and abilities, using a wide veriaty of different forces and mechanisms to move them. In this regard I have always been set on using magnetic (or electromagnetic) force to move them and connect them, as I believe it to be the most effiecent and reliable way to hold modular robots together. My knowledge of electromagents is highschool level physics, therefore my first design might be elementry for those who know more about Physics. I came up with my first design by imagining drilling holes in a dice and inserting iron neils with copper coils around them. The head of the nail could act as magnentic surface for nail heads on other cubes, creating a chain. This design soon became obsolete as I researched more. Firstly there needed to be at least two magnetic surfaces to mantain a stable linear connection, secondly a coil aroud an iron nail is not the most powerful and space efficent electromagent craftable. My research led me to my Type 1# satellitle module, the E part of a transformer can become an extreamly powerful electromagnet, this is mostly due to industrial construction of transformers, which posses many layers of metal (which usually is magnetic steel, making it better material then iron), increasing it's strength as a magnet. Also the primary coil of a tiny transformer contains a vastly larger amount of coils then I could every wind by hand, also increasing the strength of the magnetic field. The second Type 2# satellitle module, I designed with inspiration from the research on modular robots by MIT students. The thesis by Ara Nerses Knaian, who happens to have been supervised by Neil Gershenfeld while writing it, goes to great depth in explaining why Electropermanent Magnets as connectors for modular robots are far superior to Electromagnets. Thus I developed my Type 2# satellite module, using what I could learn about Electropermanent Magnets in about three days since I discovered them. Until I undrestand what building both type entails I will not settle for one design.
The reason why I call them satellite modules: I wanted to bring some innovation to the world of modular robots, so when I was checking out some of the videos that desplay or explain the exisisting modular robot I could not help but notice a general trend. Everyone seems to be mimicking biological swarm behaviour, such as schooling fish, bees or ants (a form of biomimicry). They therefore create small robots, each with a limited processing capacity, which are capable of acting independently of the entire group. They then make these swarm of robots perform tasks such as moving object, each robot being aware only of his closest counterparts. To me that sounds highly innefficent since, for example, schools of fish only perform simple actions such as escaping predators or for protection. To move an objects there are far better biological systems we can mimick, such as us humans. My overall design is not to give each cube module any independence, they will only be part of a single unity. The Core will contain the battery, processor and transmitter, and will feed current and information to the satellite modules by the connectors. The transmitter will be needed to control which Electromagnet to switch on and off within each cube. ( I have not yet figured out how I will be able to remotely switch the magnets on and off). The modular robot will not be the modules by themselves, but rather the entirety of the core plus all the satellites. The Core will be much larger then the satellites and will act like the Brain, while the satellites will be the limbs. This will decrease the size of the satellite modules significantly, increase power efficency (I think its probably cheaper to power one large processor than many tiny ones, but I am not sure. It is definatly more convenient to charge one unit though) and much more intelligent, with a larger processor comes the possibility to install a stronger A.I. to guide the robot, meaning it will be much more elaborate and useful.